Japan, as an island country, is made up of more than 6,800 islands. In this article we are going to introduce some of the most interesting and unique islands of Japan, including islands that have been registered as World Heritage sites, man-made islands and islands with great natural beauty.
1. Rishiri Island (Hokkaido)
Rishiri Island is an almost completely circular island that floats in the northern part of Hokkaido. You can reach the island in about 50m by plane from Shin Chitose Airport, or about 1hr 40m by ferry from Wakkanai City. Mount Rishiri, which rises from the center of the island, stands 1700 m above sea level and is not that tall, but it is sometimes called Rishiri Fuji for its similarity to Mt. Fuji and is the symbol of the island. The spectacular site is with well worth a visit. Also, the high quality Rishiri Konbu (kelp) is famous around Japan, and on the island you can try your hand at making your own souvenirs with the konbu.
2. Sadogashima (Niigata)
Sadogashima is an island located about 65m by high speed ferry from the mainland of Niigata Prefecture. On the island, conservation and breeding activities for the endangered crested ibis (toki in Japanese) are carried out, and you can observe the crested ibis at the Toki Forest Park or the Reintroduction Center. Sadogashima is also famous for its bountiful nature and gold mine, and there are all sorts of historical and cultural activities which you can enjoy, including a trek to the peak of the mountain which offers a spectacular view of the surrounding nature, and trying out panning for gold dust in the old, traditional methods.
3. Enoshima (Kanagawa)
Reachable in about 1 hour from Shinjuku station, Enoshima is one of the Kanto region’s popular tourist spots. The Enoshima Ohashi, the bridge which connects the island to the mainland, offers a great view of Mt. Fuji on clear days, and is regularly bustling with tourists. The shoreline around Enoshima is colloquially known as the “Miami Beach of the East,” and is a popular spot for marine sports. After taking a stroll along the path to the shrine lined with old ryokan and stores, why not visit the Enoshima Shrine as well? Enoshima is famous for its whitebait, and you can even find ice cream with it in!
4. Izu Oshima (Tokyo)
Located about 120km south of Tokyo, about 1hr 45m from Tokyo Takeshiba by high speed ferry, Izu Oshima is famous for its active volcano, Mt. Mihara. The pillar of fire that rises up from the volcano at the center of the island has been revered as the Goshinka-sama, or honorable fire deity, by people since ancient times. (Volcanoes are seen as places of sanctity, and the term Goshinka-sama refers to the fire and smoke of the volcano.) On the island, you can enjoy the spectacular scenes of nature created by this live volcano. The path around the island is approximately 50km. We recommend borrowing one of the rental cycles available to travel around. If you get tired on your journey, why not take a break in one of the natural hot springs created by the volcano?
5. Tsushima (Nagasaki)
This island, located between Kyushu and South Korea, is part of Nagasaki Prefecture. You can reach the island by plane from Fukuoka Airport or Nagasaki Airport in about 30m. There is also a ferry departing from Hakata Port, but this takes a long time. About 89% of the island is mountain land, and although the island is covered with natural forests, the ecology on the island is totally unique - with no animals that you would typically find on the mainland, such as monkeys, bears, foxes, raccoon dogs, rabbits or squirrels. Out of these, the Tsushima cat is one of the most famous. The island and its abundant nature are a pleasure to stroll around, and there are places where you can see the opposite shores of South Korea is the weather is good. This is one island where you can really feel the borders of Japan.
*This picture of a Tsushima cat was taken at a zoo.
6. Miyajima (Hiroshima)
One of the “Three Views of Japan.” The island is home to the famous Itsukushima Shrine, known for its more than 1400 years of history and spectacular appearance that changes with the tide. The shrine has been registered as a World Heritage site. The torii, or gate to the shrine, standing in the sea is the symbol of Miyajima. The island is full of sights to see, including various shrines and temples, such as a 5-storey pagoda and Toyokuni Shrine, the path to the shrine which is lined with souvenir shops, the world’s largest shamoji, or rice paddle, as well as Mt. Misen from which you can see the atmospheric streetscape and Seto inland sea. You can also see a lot of deer running freely around the island, and can enjoy some delicious local food including oysters and Momiji Manju. To get to Miyajima, take the ferry from either the JR or Hiroshima Dentetsu Miyajima-guchi Station (approx. 10m).
7. Yonaguni Island (Okinawa)
Yonaguni Island is Japan’s most westerly island. Home to diverse culture as well as some spectacular natural scenery created by the rough flows of the Kuroshio Japanese current, this island offers something different event to that of Okinawa island. The island is about 1.5 hours from Okinawa by plane, with daily flights from Naha Airport to Yonaguni Airport. On clear days, the view of the endless horizon from the island is spectacular, and at only 111km from Taiwan, you can even sometimes enjoy the view of the mountain of Taiwan. With a subtropical climate, the seawater is warm all year round, making it a popular diving spot. It is also famous for its deep sea ruins which are a must for any divers visiting the island.
8. Yakushima (Kagoshima)
A registered World Natural Heritage site, Yakushima is an island rich in nature with a unique ecosystem. The island features countless sightseeing spots, including a forest of Yakushima Japanese Cedar trees over 1,000 years old (Japanese cedar trees are natural treasures), the Jomonsugi (a large Japanese cedar tree said to be between 2,000 and 7,200 years old), and the 88m high Oko-no-taki waterfall. There is also a hot spring. Here, you are sure to be able to relax and spend some peaceful time surrounded by nature. You can reach the island by place or ferry from Kagoshima.
9. Gunkanjima (Nagasaki)
Located in Nagasaki Prefecture. Officially named Hashima, this approximately 480m long and 160m wide, narrow island gained its nickname “Gunkanjima,” or “Warship Island,” due to its similar appearance to a warship. Once flourishing as a deep sea coal mine, it once boasted a population density higher than Tokyo, but as the principle source of energy changed from coal to oil, the mine was closed and people left the island. Even now, it remains deserted. The ruins of the housing and facilities still remain on the island, and the unique scenery has been used in a number of films, including the live-action version of the popular manga and anime “Attack on Titan.” Tours of the ruins are available for around 4,000 JPY (advanced booking required).
10. Ogasawara Islands (Tokyo)
The Ogasawara Islands are a group of 30 or so islands of varying sizes, located about 1,000km south of Tokyo. Since its formation, the Ogasawara Islands have been separate from the mainland, which has led to the formation of a unique natural ecosystem and culture, with many creatures peculiar only to the islands. In 2011, the islands were registered as a World Natural Heritage site. There are a number of islands which you can go ashore and go sightseeing, the main island being Chichijima. From marine sports to star watching, you can really enjoy the nature of the islands. You can also enjoy whale watching and swimming with dolphins in the surrounding seas. You can reach the islands from Tokyo by ferry (approx. 25 hr 30 min).
Japan is made up of a wide variety of islands, each with their own unique culture, history and ecosystem. You can reach many of these islands quickly and easily by plane or ferry, so if you’re looking for a slightly different trip in Japan, why not visit one of these islands?